Uncivil War

Kevin Lewis

September 04, 2020

Right-wing Authoritarianism, Left-wing Authoritarianism, and pandemic-mitigation authoritarianism
Joseph Manson
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming


Recent research suggests the validity of the construct of Left-wing Authoritarianism (LWA). Like its well-studied parallel construct Right-wing Authoritarianism, LWA is characterized by dogmatism, punitive attitudes toward dissenters, and desire for strong authority figures. In contrast to RWA, LWA mobilizes these traits on behalf of left-wing values (e.g. anti-racism, anti-sexism, and wealth redistribution). I inductively examined the extent to which RWA and LWA predicted, in April 2020, Americans' endorsement of 19 authoritarian policies and practices intended to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For 11 of these policies (e.g. abrogating the right to trial by jury for pandemic-related crimes), both RWA and LWA independently positively predicted endorsement. These findings are consistent with recent work showing psychological similarities between the two constructs.

Ethnic antagonism erodes Republicans’ commitment to democracy
Larry Bartels
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


Most Republicans in a January 2020 survey agreed that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” More than 40% agreed that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” (In both cases, most of the rest said they were unsure; only one in four or five disagreed.) I use 127 survey items to measure six potential bases of these and other antidemocratic sentiments: partisan affect, enthusiasm for President Trump, political cynicism, economic conservatism, cultural conservatism, and ethnic antagonism. The strongest predictor by far, for the Republican rank-and-file as a whole and for a variety of subgroups defined by education, locale, sex, and political attitudes, is ethnic antagonism — especially concerns about the political power and claims on government resources of immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos. The corrosive impact of ethnic antagonism on Republicans’ commitment to democracy underlines the significance of ethnic conflict in contemporary US politics.

Partisan ideological attitudes: Liberals are tolerant; the intelligent are intolerant
Yoav Ganzach & Yaacov Schul
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


In this article we examine intolerance toward ideological outgroups, conceptualized as the negativity of the attitudes of liberals and conservatives toward their ideological outgroup. We show that conservatives are more ideologically intolerant than liberals and that the more intelligent are more ideologically intolerant than the less intelligent. We also show that the differences between liberals and conservatives and the differences between the more and less intelligent depend on ideological extremity: They are larger for extreme than for moderate ideologists. The implication of these results to questions regarding the relationship between intelligence and ideological intolerance and regarding the relationship between ideology and prejudice are discussed.

The confident conservative: Ideological differences in judgment and decision-making confidence
Benjamin Ruisch & Chadly Stern
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming


In this research, we document the existence of broad ideological differences in judgment and decision-making confidence and examine their source. Across a series of 14 studies (total N = 4,575), we find that political conservatives exhibit greater judgment and decision-making confidence than do political liberals. These differences manifest across a wide range of judgment tasks, including both memory recall and “in the moment” judgments. Further, these effects are robust across different measures of confidence and both easy and hard tasks. We also find evidence suggesting that ideological differences in closure-directed cognition might in part explain these confidence differences. Specifically, conservatives exhibit a greater motivation to make rapid and efficient judgments and are more likely to “seize” on an initial response option when faced with a decision. Liberals, conversely, tend to consider a broader range of alternative response options before making a decision, which in turn undercuts their confidence relative to their more conservative counterparts. We discuss theoretical implications of these findings for the role of ideology in social judgment and decision-making.

Liberals Report Lower Levels of Attitudinal Ambivalence Than Conservatives
Leonard Newman & Rikki Sargent
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Political conservatism has been shown to be positively correlated with intolerance of ambiguity, need for closure, and dogmatism and negatively correlated with openness to new experiences and uncertainty tolerance. Those findings suggest that conservatism should also be negatively correlated with attitudinal ambivalence; by definition, ambivalent attitudes are more complex and more tinged with uncertainty than univalent attitudes. However, little published research addresses this issue. The results of five studies (total N = 1,049 participants) reveal instead that political liberalism is negatively associated with ambivalence. This finding held for both subjective and potential (i.e., formula-based) measures of ambivalence and for both politicized and nonpoliticized attitude objects. Conservatives may prefer uncomplicated and consistent ways of thinking and feeling, but that preference might not necessarily be reflected in the actual consistency of their mental representations. Possible accounts for these findings are discussed.

Disrupting the system constructively: Testing the effectiveness of nonnormative nonviolent collective action
Eric Shuman et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


Collective action research tends to focus on motivations of the disadvantaged group, rather than on which tactics are effective at driving the advantaged group to make concessions to the disadvantaged. We focused on the potential of nonnormative nonviolent action as a tactic to generate support for concessions among advantaged group members who are resistant to social change. We propose that this tactic, relative to normative nonviolent and to violent action, is particularly effective because it reflects constructive disruption: a delicate balance between disruption (which can put pressure on the advantaged group to respond) and perceived constructive intentions (which can help ensure that the response to action is a conciliatory one). We test these hypotheses across 4 contexts (total N = 3650). Studies 1–3 demonstrate that nonnormative nonviolent action (compared with inaction, normative nonviolent action, and violent action) is uniquely effective at increasing support for concessions to the disadvantaged among resistant advantaged group members (compared with advantaged group members more open to social change). Study 3 shows that constructive disruption mediates this effect. Study 4 shows that perceiving a real-world ongoing protest as constructively disruptive predicts support for the disadvantaged, whereas Study 5 examines these processes longitudinally over 2 months in the context of an ongoing social movement. Taken together, we show that nonnormative nonviolent action can be an effective tactic for generating support for concessions to the disadvantaged among those who are most resistant because it generates constructive disruption.

Deconstructing bias in social preferences reveals groupy and not-groupy behavior
Rachel Kranton et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1 September 2020, Pages 21185-21193


Group divisions are a continual feature of human history, with biases toward people’s own groups shown in both experimental and natural settings. Using a within-subject design, this paper deconstructs group biases to find significant and robust individual differences; some individuals consistently respond to group divisions, while others do not. We examined individual behavior in two treatments in which subjects make pairwise decisions that determine own and others’ incomes. In a political treatment, which divided subjects into groups based on their political leanings, political party members showed more in-group bias than Independents who professed the same political opinions. However, this greater bias was also present in a minimal group treatment, showing that stronger group identification was not the driver of higher favoritism in the political setting. Analyzing individual choices across the experiment, we categorize participants as “groupy” or “not groupy,” such that groupy participants have social preferences that change for in-group and out-group recipients, while not-groupy participants’ preferences do not change across group context. Demonstrating further that the group identity of the recipient mattered less to their choices, strongly not-groupy subjects made allocation decisions faster. We conclude that observed in-group biases build on a foundation of heterogeneity in individual groupiness.

#PolarizedFeeds: Three Experiments on Polarization, Framing, and Social Media
Antoine Banks et al.
International Journal of Press/Politics, forthcoming


Does exposure to social media polarize users or simply sort out like-minded voters based on their preexisting beliefs? In this paper, we conduct three survey experiments to assess the direct and unconditioned effect of exposure to tweets on perceived ideological polarization of candidates and parties. We show that subjects treated with negative tweets see greater ideological distance between presidential nominees and between their parties. We also demonstrate that polarization increases with processing time. We demonstrate a social media effect on perceived polarization beyond that due to the self-selection of like-minded users into different media communities. We explain our results as the result of social media frames that increase contrast effects between voters and candidates.

Can Social Media Incivility Induce Enthusiasm? Evidence from Survey Experiments
Spyros Kosmidis & Yannis Theocharis
Public Opinion Quarterly, Summer 2020, Pages 284–308


Most studies of online incivility report negative effects on attitudes and behaviors of both the victims and the audiences who are exposed to it. But while we have extensive insights about the attitudinal and behavioral consequences of incivility, less emphasis has been paid on its emotional effects. We conduct a series of survey experiments using statements posted on Twitter by elite actors along with the comments they receive and measure the emotional reactions of the public in relation to the content of the original post. We find that when the raw information is accompanied by uncivil commentary (compared to civil or no commentary), respondents express higher levels of positive and lower levels of negative emotions. Further analysis of heterogeneous effects focusing on partisanship shows that the effects are primarily driven by those who are generally expected to agree with the expert’s claim. The broader consequences of incivility as entertainment on social media platforms are discussed.

Don’t @ Me: Experimentally Reducing Partisan Incivility on Twitter
Kevin Munger
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming


I conduct an experiment which examines the impact of moral suasion on partisans engaged in uncivil arguments. Partisans often respond in vitriolic ways to politicians they disagree with, and this can engender hateful responses from partisans from the other side. This phenomenon was especially common during the contentious 2016 US Presidential Election. Using Twitter accounts that I controlled, I sanctioned people engaged in partisan incivility in October 2016. I found that messages containing moral suasion were more effective at reducing incivility than were messages with no moral content in the first week post-treatment. There were no significant treatment effects in the first day post-treatment, emphasizing the need for research designs that measure effect duration. The type of moral suasion employed, however, did not have the expected differential effect on either Republicans or Democrats. These effects were significantly moderated by the anonymity of the subjects.

Elite Trust and the Populist Threat to Stable Democracy
John Higley
American Behavioral Scientist, August 2020, Pages 1211-1218


One aspect of elite theory holds that democratic stability depends heavily on elites trusting each other to keep distributive issues from reaching acute degrees impelling power seizures. This presumes that agreement about the distribution of valued things is seldom deep or wide in large publics. When distributive issues rise to clear public consciousness, the tendency is toward civil strife. Populists assail and undermine elite trust and the management of politics by elites. They thereby weaken an important basis of democratic stability. I argue that the rise of populist leaders to power leads to an erosion of elite trust, which makes distributive issues more acute and threatens the stability of democratic institutions.

Authoritarian attitudes are associated with higher autonomic reactivity to stress and lower recovery
Johan Lepage et al.
Emotion, forthcoming


Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO) both predict generalized prejudice, dehumanization, intergroup discrimination, oppression, violence, right-wing political party preference, and generally punitive attitudes. Authoritarian attitudes have been theorized to involve maladaptive emotional, cognitive, and social self-regulation. However, there is no study of authoritarianism using the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) as a physiological index of self-regulation, thus leaving it unclear whether regulation is “impaired” with authoritarian attitudes per se. PNS functioning is commonly assessed by examining tonic and phasic heart rate variability (HRV). These two components are recognized to be important in terms of adaptation to stress. Decreased HRV has been associated with hypoactive prefrontal regulation, hyperactive subcortical structures, maladaptive self-regulation, hyper-vigilance, decreased prosocial tendencies, defensiveness, impulsive behaviors, and aggression. Previous research suggests that self-regulatory failure may favor hostile attitudes and prejudicial intergroup behaviors. In a first study, we found that high RWA was associated with lower tonic HRV at rest. In a second study, stress-induced autonomic reactivity and poststress autonomic recovery were examined as potential pathways linking authoritarian attitudes to self-regulation. We found that high RWA and high SDO were associated with (i) lower tonic HRV during stress, (ii) greater autonomic reactivity during stress, and (iii) lower autonomic recovery. Overall, our results suggest that autonomic dysregulation during and following stress is a plausible physiological pathway connecting RWA and SDO to self-regulation. Implications of such results for research on political attitudes are discussed.

Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex response to negative tweets relates to executive functioning
Sarah Tashjian & Adriana Galván
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming


Cognitive performance can become impaired when a stimulus evokes an emotional response. Social media often elicits emotional reactions, but, despite social media’s ubiquity, cognitive and neural consequences of exposure to negative online content are relatively unknown. Fifty-seven human adults (18–29 years; 38 female) who identified with at least one historically-marginalized group performed a novel ‘Tweet Task’. While undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants completed a spatial reasoning task before and after reading a set of actual tweets. Participants were randomly assigned to read negative, discriminatory tweets from President Trump (Negative Condition) or neutral tweets (Neutral Condition). Participants in the Negative Condition reported worsening affect and demonstrated performance interference post-tweet compared to those in the Neutral Condition. Affect post-tweet was associated with parametric reductions in left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which predicted variance in performance beyond elicited negative affect. Performance effects were demonstrated on an unrelated spatial reasoning task suggesting that engaging with negative, emotionally-arousing content on social media can have deleterious effects on executive functioning in non-social domains.

Elite Messaging and Partisan Consumerism: An Evaluation of President Trump’s Tweets and Polarization of Corporate Brand Images
Kyle Endres, Costas Panagopoulos & Donald Green
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


One of the hallmarks of the Trump Administration has been the president’s frequent use of Twitter to express his approval of or disdain for firms such as L.L. Bean or Macy’s. The suddenness with which corporations have come into the political spotlight presents a research opportunity to scholars interested in opinion leadership and partisan polarization. To what extent do presidential tweets lead to polarization of Democrats’ and Republicans’ opinions about the firms that are praised or excoriated? Are these effects especially strong among co-partisans? How long-lasting are they? Using weekly evaluations of firms that came under fire from President Trump’s tweets, we model the net brand ratings of Democratic and Republican respondents. Our time-series results suggest that presidential criticism via Twitter typically has strong immediate effects on net ratings that subside after a few months. One noteworthy exception is presidential criticism of Apple, which coincided with criticism from prominent Democrats as well. Overall, the magnitude of the immediate effect demonstrates the role of elite opinion leadership in precipitating polarized assessments of firms that were previously evaluated similarly across the political spectrum.

The Ideational Foundations of Symbolic Ideology
Paul Goren, Matthew Motta & Brianna Smith
Political Psychology, August 2020, Pages 75-94


Theories of symbolic ideology view it as an affective orientation untouched by ideational content. Drawing on Shalom Schwartz's theory of basic human values, we propose that four bedrock values — universalism, openness to change, conservation, and self‐enhancement — shape symbolic ideology. We explore whether politically sophisticated and unsophisticated individuals ground symbolic ideological identities in cognitive values to a comparable degree. Using data from two nationally representative U.S. surveys, we find that universalism and conservation predict liberal‐conservative attachments for people at all levels of sophistication. By contrast, openness to change and self‐enhancement values appear to have little influence on symbolic ideology. The universalism and conservation effects hold controlling for multiple psychological and individual differences variables. These results suggest that ideational predispositions play a substantial role in shaping symbolic ideology.

Is the Political Slant of Psychology Research Related to Scientific Replicability?
Diego Reinero et al.
Perspectives on Psychological Science, forthcoming


Social science researchers are predominantly liberal, and critics have argued this representation may reduce the robustness of research by embedding liberal values into the research process. In an adversarial collaboration, we examined whether the political slant of research findings in psychology is associated with lower rates of scientific replicability. We analyzed 194 original psychology articles reporting studies that had been subject to a later replication attempt (N = 1,331,413 participants across replications) by having psychology doctoral students (Study 1) and an online sample of U.S. residents (Study 2) from across the political spectrum code the political slant (liberal vs. conservative) of the original research abstracts. The methods and analyses were preregistered. In both studies, the liberal or conservative slant of the original research was not associated with whether the results were successfully replicated. The results remained consistent regardless of the ideology of the coder. Political slant was unrelated to both subsequent citation patterns and the original study’s effect size and not consistently related to the original study’s sample size. However, we found modest evidence that research with greater political slant — whether liberal or conservative — was less replicable, whereas statistical robustness consistently predicted replication success. We discuss the implications for social science, politics, and replicability.

The Selective Communication of Political Information
Pierce Ekstrom & Calvin Lai
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


People seek out and interpret political information in self-serving ways. In four experiments, we show that people are similarly self-serving in the political information they share with others. Participants learned about positive and negative effects of increasing the minimum wage (in Studies 1–3) or of banning assault weapons (Study 4). They then indicated how likely they would be to mention each effect to close others. Participants were more inclined to share information that was consistent with their political orientation than information that was not. This effect persisted even when participants believed the information, suggesting that selective communication is not just a reflection of motivated skepticism. We also observed ideological differences. Liberals were most biased with their political opponents, whereas conservatives were most biased with their political allies. This biased information sharing could distort the flow of political information through social networks in ways that exacerbate political polarization.

When Trust Matters: The Case of Gun Control
John Barry Ryan et al.
Political Behavior, forthcoming


Declining trust in government is often cited as the cause of declining support for policies that require ideological sacrifices. Yet pivotal to the effect of trust is the broader political context, which can vary over time. In a context of deep partisan divisions, for individuals who do not trust the government, even small ideological costs can signal the beginning of a process that leads to much larger ideological costs down the line — a process akin to a “slippery slope.” We demonstrate the conditional relationship between partisan divides, governmental trust, and support for policy through empirical tests that focus on the case of gun control. We first show that the effect of trust in government on conservatives’ gun control attitudes increases as polarization over the issue grows. We then use a continuum of gun control policies to demonstrate that the effect of trust on policy support can follow a slippery slope structure during polarized points.


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